Upstart Utah, Kentucky play on Stanford's run ends in OT, 86-85


SAN ANTONIO - Kentucky needed nearly 30 minutes to catch up with Stanford last night at the, Alamodome. The Wildcats also needed the rest of regulation and the entire over time to beat the Cardinal, 86-85, in the first NCAA tournament semifinal game and advance to their third straight championship game.

But the one-point difference doesn't tell how close Stanford actually came to winning the first overtime semifinal in five years.

It might have been the difference between the steal Stanford freshman Jarron Collins tried to make in the is backcourt with six seconds to play, instead tying up Scott Padgett with the possession arrow pointing Kentucky's way. It might have been the difference between the steal Arthur Lee thought he had on the ensuing inbounds pass with six seconds to play, instead watching Kentucky point guard Wayne Turner retrieve the ball.

"I thought I had it," Lee said. "I was thinking what I would do with the ball when I came upcourt. And then he got his hand on the ball. We had a chance to win the game to say the least."

In the end, Stanford (30-5) ran out of both time and magic. After Turner was fouled with 2.5 seconds left and missed both free throws, Peter Sauer's desperation heave at the buzzer went wide right.

"A 65-foot runner," said Sauer,. who had pulled the Cardinal to within a point with a 25-foot set shot with 9.2 seconds to play. "That's not an easy shot when you're alone in the gym and there's nobody guarding you."

In the end, the most critical possession for Kentucky (34-4) turned out to be the pass from Edwards to Turner because,

regardless of what happened at the free-throw line, it meant Stanford needed to go the length of the court.

The pass came on a busted play after Edwards couldn't get the ball to senior guard Jeff Sheppard in the backeourt.

"That was a designed play," joked Sheppard, "where we run around like crazy and hope that one of our guys gets it."

Though Kentucky also benefited from a couple of questionable calls - the fifth foul on Stanford center Tim Young with 4:38 left in overtime, and a missed dunk by Padgett that was ruled to have been tipped on its way out of bounds by Mark Madsen - the Wildcats also showed the kind of resolve they demonstrated in last week's 86-84 win over Duke in the South Regional final.

"I told the team before the game, you can't talk about quick victories," said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, whose Wildcats became the first team since Duke in 1992 to advance to three straight NCAA championship games. "I said to them, 'You've got to last.' "

They did. Behind a career-high 27 points from Sheppard and 18 points from sophomore center Nazr Mohammed, 17 of them coming in the second half, Kentucky came back from an early 10-point deficit. After climbing to within a point six times, the Wildcats finally took the lead, 54-53, with 10:04 left in regulation. It was only the start of a wild finish that had nine lead changes and Lee tying the score at 73 on a three-pointer with 26.8 seconds left.

"Their guards were tremendous, they kept making big shots," Sheppard said of Lee, who finished with 26 points and Kris Weems, who had 17 despite missing 17 of the 23 shots he took. "But I think that playing against our pressure finally wore them out a little."

Said Madsen, whose 16 rebounds allowed the Cardinal to get a couple of big second-chance shots: "I think the difference in the game was Jeff Sheppard. I've never seen a guard make harder cuts to get open for his shots. And he has tremendous elevation that made him difficult to stop."

But Stanford wouldn't go away.

Even after Sheppard's fourth three-point shot of the game with 1:24 remaining in overtime-the shot coming off the inbounds pass after a timeout that followed Padgett's missed dunk-had given Kentucky an 82-78 lead. A free throw by Collins made the deficit three and after Turner hit one of two free throws, a three by reserve forward Ryan Mendez cut the deficit to one 83-82, with 43.6 seconds left.

Even after a pair of free throws by Turner made it 85-82. Stanford missed three times from threepoint range, twice by Mendez and finally Lee being blocked by reserve center Jamaal Magloire, who was in the game because Mohammed had four fouls. Even after Sheppard had given the Wildcats another four-point lead, this time at 86-82 with 15.4 seconds left. This time it was Sauer who stepped up and hit the three.

"When I hit that shot, I wasn't thinking about the Rhode Island game, I was just thinking about winning this game," said Sauer, referring to last week's comeback win in the Midwest Regional final "We were one play away."

It was a play the Cardinal couldn't quite make. Collins couldn't get the ball away from Padgett" - "I tried to rip his arms hi off," Collins said later-and Lee couldn't get the ball that Turner wound up controlling. Kentucky knew how close it had come to defeat, to its dream of its second national championship in the past three years coming up short.

Someone told Mohammed that he didn't look excited.

"I'm keeping it balled up inside," he said. "Our goal was not to get to the championship game. Our goal was to win it all. We have one game left."

No matter what happens here tomorrow, it won't be any harder than what Kentucky experienced last night.

Pub Date: 3/29/98

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